BWZee: A biological valuation map for the Belgian continental shelf



The continuously increasing socio-economical interest in marine resources urges the need for a decision making framework to objectively allocate the different user functions at the Belgian Continental Shelf (BCS). This calls for a spatial structure plan, preferentially firmly based on the concept of integrated marine management, in which biological value should be carefully taken into account. Unfortunately, so far an integrated view on the biological value of the BCS is lacking. A first attempt to assess the biological value of (parts of) the BCS exists, but this study only took into account one ecosystem component (i.e. macrobenthos) and non-extrapolated to the whole shelf, generally failing to provide an integrated, full-coverage Biological Valuation Map of the BCS.

Project description


This project aims at setting up a Biological Valuation Map (BVM) for the Belgian Continental Shelf. The general objectives of the project are therefore
(1) to select criteria for biological valuation of the marine environment
(2) to map the spatial distribution of well-studied ecosystem components at the BCS (i.e. macrobenthos and seabirds)
(3) to create a full coverage baseline BVM for the BCS, based on the valuation of the macrobenthos and the seabirds
(4) to upgrade the baseline BVM for selected areas, based on the valuation of hyper- and epibenthos.


Since no marine Biological Valuation Map has been set up in other parts of the world yet, a novel approach should be searched for. The generation of the Biological Valuation Map for Belgian marine waters should therefore preferably be based on the experience acquired during the actualisation of the terrestrial valuation maps: the creation of the marine Biological Valuation Map demands close cooperation with terrestrial experts, already in an early stage of the project. Because of fundamental differences between the terrestrial and marine ecosystem structure and functioning, a team of experts in terrestrial biological valuation and marine biology experts will search for an adapted approach for the biological value of the Belgian Continental Shelf (e.g. valuation criteria).

The marine Biological Valuation Map should include and integrate information on all marine ecosystem components for which detailed spatial distribution data are available. At the Belgian Continental Shelf such data are primarily available for the macrobenthos and seabirds (macrobenthos: UGent-MACRODAT database; seabirds: IN database). To a lesser extent, but still useful from a valueing perspective, data on the spatial distribution of the epi- and hyperbenthos exist (UGent and DVZ databases). It was decided to base the biological valuation of the Belgian Continental Shelf on the spatial distribution of seabirds and macrobenthos (full coverage baseline Biological Valuation Map), while epi- and hyperbenthos data will be used as an upgrade (upgraded Biological Valuation Map for selected areas).

The seabird database consists of a set of points where densities are known. In order to cover the entire Belgian marine area a GIS-aided inter- and extrapolation will be performed. Contrary to avifauna data, in which direct observations almost provide full-coverage information for numerous areas at the Belgian Continental Shelf, benthos data should be regarded as point data. To spatially extrapolate these point data, needed to obtain a full coverage spatial distribution map, a predictive model, based on the close link between the macrobenthos and its physical habitat, will be set up. Once developed and validated, the model will enable to extrapolate the spatial distribution of the macrobenthos to the full Belgian Continental Shelf, using existing data on the physical habitat (GIS-aided).

Eventhough large databases on seabirds are available, there are still areas at the Belgian Continental Shelf (mainly the outer parts) with a poor coverage of data. Supplementary seabird counts will fill the gap in these areas. New samples on macrobenthos will be collected to ground-truth the predicted full-coverage distribution maps.
Once a full coverage map of the spatial distribution of macrobenthos and seabirds is generated, these maps will be evaluated according to the set valueing criteria. Through a GIS aided combination of the different valuation maps (macrobenthos-seabirds and criteria) a full coverage base Biological Valuation Map will be attained. This baseline Biological Valuation Map will further be upgraded using data on the epi- and hyperbenthic value, within areas were information on these components is available (upgraded Biological Valuation Map for selected areas).

Interaction between the different partners

As indicated in the schematic presentation of the project, several partners contribute to each of the five work packages. The first partner mentioned is coordinating the work package.

Expected results

The marine BVM is an indispensable tool to obtain an objective and scientifically-sound spatial structure plan of the BCS. Next to the above mentioned exploitation of the final result of BWZee, other results are: (1) an integrated databases on the biology and physical environment of the BCS, (2) the innovative approach to set up a marine BVM (e.g. valuation criteria), (3) the development of the habitat-based predictive model, (4) full coverage information on the spatial distribution of macrobenthos and seabirds at the BCS, (5) the translation of results and conclusions for the benefit of scientists, managers, policy makers, the public at large.



A broad multidisciplinary expertise within the partnership is a conditio sine qua non to be able to reach the final goal of this project. Therefore, each of the partners brings its own complementary expertise into the project:
• Sectie Mariene Biologie – UGent (SMB): Macro-, hyper- and epibenthos
• Instituut voor Natuurbehoud (IN): Biological valuation, avifauna, GIS
• Renard Centre of Marine Geology – UGent (RCMG): Habitat characterization, spatial extrapolation, GIS
• Departement voor Zeevisserij (DvZ): Epibenthos
• Vlaams instituut voor de Zee (VLIZ): Data management, dissemination

Contact information


Magda Vincx - Steven Degraer
Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Vakgroep Biologie - Sectie Mariene Biologie
Krijgslaan 281 - S8
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 52 10
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 53 44


Eckhart Kuijken – Eric Stienen
Instituut voor Natuurbehoud (IN)
Kliniekstraat 25
B-1070 Brussel
Tel: +32 (0)2 558 18 11
Fax: +32 (0)2 558 18 05

Vera Van Lancker
Universiteit Gent (UGent)
Renard Centre of Marine Geology (RCMG)
Krijgslaan 281, S8
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 45 89
Fax: +32 (0)9 264 49 67

Hans Hillewaert
Ministeria van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap
Ankerstraat 1
B-8400 Oostende
Tel: +32 (0)59 34 22 59
Fax: +32 (0)59 33 06 29

Jan Mees
Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee (VLIZ)
Vismijn, Pakhuizen 45-52
B-8400 Oostende
Tel: +32 (0)59 34 21 33
Fax: +32 (0)59 34 21 31

Users committee

To secure the project finally leads to a Biological Valuation Map, which is supported by a wide board of policy makers and managers, a diverse team of governmental and non-governmental endusers will regularly meet throughout the project and help to obtain a useful tool in integrated marine management. Members are:

• Prof. Dr. F. Maes (UGent, Maritiem Instituut)
• G. Vandenbroucke (Natuurpunt vzw)
• Baron E. Kesteloot (Prince Laurent Foundation for the Welfare of Domestic and Wild Animals)
• R. Schallier (IRSNB-UGMM)
• P. Bossu & K. Plasman (Kabinet Minister Vande Lanotte)
• Ir. J.-L. Herrier (AMINAL – Nature Division)
• K. Belpaeme (Coordination centre for Integrated Coastal Zone Management)




Belgium {Geographical scope}
North Sea {Geographical scope}
Marine and Coastal {Habitat type}


Name Role Amount
Science for Sustainable Development unknown


Name Role Start End
Kuijken, Eckhart member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Stienen, Eric member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Hillewaert, Hans member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Mees, Jan member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Vincx, Magda promotor 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Degraer, Steven promotor 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Rabaut, Marijn member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01


Name Role Start End
Marine Biology leader 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Institute of Nature Conservation member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Fisheries member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01
Flanders Marine Institute member 2003-12-01 2006-04-01


Reference Role
Final report author

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform